Diabetes in Our Dogs and Cats

By Dr. Katie Falk, Veterinarian

Diabetes mellitus is a condition of hyperglycemia due to loss or dysfunction of insulin secretion by pancreatic beta cells, diminished insulin sensitivity, or both. Insulin helps transfer glucose from the bloodstream to cells of the body. Without insulin, glucose builds up in the blood, which is called hyperglycemia. When glucose is not able to reach the cells, organs become starved for energy and eventually begin to breakdown body tissues for energy.

Diabetes most commonly affects dogs ages 4 to 14 years-old and cats greater than 6 years-old. The good news is that with proper monitoring, treatment, diet, and exercise, diabetic patients can live long, happy lives.


  • Increased water drinking
  • Increased urination
  • Weight loss
  • Change in appetite
  • Cloudy eyes (cataracts)
  • Chronic or recurrent infections (especially skin and bladder)


Telling your veterinarian about any of the above clinical signs may help suspect the diagnosis of diabetes. However, the only way to confirm is with blood tests, often requiring a “glucose curve”. A glucose curve involves taking numerous blood glucose measurements, with a glucometer, over a 12-hour period. This technique is also used in long term management of treatment.

Risk Factors

  • Obesity
  • Pancreatitis
  • Pregnancy
  • Kidney disease (cats)
  • Cushings (dogs)
  • Hyperthyroidism (dogs)
  • Long-term steroid use


Diabetes mellitus is treatable with the involvement of both a committed owner and veterinarian. Once a diagnosis is found, your veterinarian will prescribe an initial insulin dose. Insulin is drawn up in a syringe and injected just under the skin either once or twice daily, with meals. Establishing an appropriate dose and continuing to maintain a diabetic lifelong is a difficult and complex task.

It is critical that the patient receives insulin and meals regularly in order to possibly achieve diabetic control. The blood glucose must then be repeatedly checked to ensure appropriate control. Insulin doses often must be tweaked by your veterinarian to find the right dose for each unique patient. This process can be very frustrating for owners, veterinarians, and pets alike. However, it is all worth it when your pet is able to live a happy, healthy life.

At-Home Management

  • Daily exercise
  • Weight management
  • High-fiber diet for dogs
  • High-protein diet for cats

Signs to Look Out For

Weakness, tremors, seizures, or loss of appetite could indicate an insulin overdose. Improperly regulated diabetics may spill over into diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) exhibited by severe lethargy, inappetence, or vomiting.

In both of the above cases, a veterinarian should be contacted immediately. The most common complication of diabetic patients is cataracts. Other long-term complications include hind leg weakness, high blood pressure, and urinary tract infections. 

Remission in Cats! 

A percentage of cats can go into remission with a strict diet and insulin regimen. 


2018 AAHA Diabetes Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats

Leave A Comment